25. Hoosiers - 1986
Most school movie jocks are belligerent bullies. But Jimmy Chitwood (Maris
Valainis) is part Larry Bird, part Rain Man, letting the swish of the basketball
net do his talking. Hoops-crazed Hickory, Ind., adores him for it. His support
of embattled Coach Dale (Gene Hackman) sways the town, and his skill transforms
Dale from goat to genius. In the championship game, the Brylcreemed god
overrules Dale's last-second strategy with three words: "I'll make it."
24. Rushmore - 1998
For some reason, Rushmore doesn't quite feel like a high school
movie. Maybe that's because director/co-writer Wes Anderson's wonderful
comedy doesn't feel like any other movie ever made. But it's about school
days: Just the fact that Jason Schwartzman's tirelessly enterprising Max
Fischer is a student at all becomes palpably bittersweet, since he's too
young to ever win Olivia Williams, the teacher of his (and anyone's) dreams.
23. Cooley High - 1975
Written by Good Times co-creator Eric Monte and directed by Michael
Schultz, this tearjerker provided the blueprint for Boyz N the Hood.
In mid-'60s Chicago, geek Leroy "Preach" Jackson (Glynn Turman) and hoop
star Richard "Cochise" Morris (Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs) struggle to stay
out of trouble while prepping for graduation. The soundtrack, featuring
G.C. Cameron's ballad "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday," remains
as beloved as the film.
22. American Pie - 1999
A frivolous teen comedy that left its mark: Jason Biggs taught us the dangers
of webcam misuse (and baked-goods abuse), while the guy who'd become Harold
- or was it Kumar? - popularized the term MILF. Pie was both funnier
and bawdier than Porky's, though that 1981 romp gets points for Kim
Cattrall's outrageous orgasm scene. But even she can't top Alyson Hannigan's
perfect delivery of the line (all together now): "This one time? At band
21. Grease - 1978
Still the top-grossing film musical ever, Grease may look too pure
to be "pink," but listen to those lyrics (and watch John Travolta ogle
Olivia Newton-John in "You're the One That I Want") and you may find
yourself blushing. Beneath the karaoke-heaven soundtrack lies a story
with teen pregnancy, "pussy wagons," and a TV personality trying to
put an aspirin in a girl's Coke. Naughty but harmless, it's just like
high school should be.
20. Dead Poets Society - 1989
Perhaps the finest movie in a shockingly sparse mini-genre: the high school
weepie. (After all, high school makes you cry sometimes.) Here, if Robert
Sean Leonard's suicide doesn't get you ("My son! My son!"), then the ending
- Ethan Hawke's stirring "O Captain! My Captain!," Maurice Jarre's
blaring bagpipes, and teacher Robin Williams' "Thank you, boys, thank you"
- will. Only somebody too cool for school could resist.
19. The Last Picture Show - 1971
Peter Bogdanovich's black-and-white film takes us to the tumbleweed burg
of Anarene, Tex., where Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms, and Randy Quaid vie
for Cybill Shepherd, the town's No. 2 seductress. (Her mom's No. 1.) These
horny, angst-ridden teens deal with sex, mortality, money, and a li'l Texas
football by being themselves: subconsciously callous. But the witty banter,
mostly by the grown-ups, makes it all less bleak.
18. Rock 'n' Roll High School - 1979
Producer Roger Corman's comedy is a jiggly love affair set at Vince Lombardi
High and centered on matchmaker Eaglebauer (Clint Howard), whose office
is a men's room stall, and "Riff Randell, rock & roller" (pre-Stripes
hottie P.J. Soles), who must rebel against Principal Togar (Mary Woronov)
to see a forbidden - and very excellent - Ramones show. Think Spinal Tap and Dazed and Confused skipping study hall together
to get stoned.
17. Peggy Sue Got Married - 1986
Would you change anything if you could relive high school? Possibly hook
up with that beatnik of a guy you always wondered about? Until Chevrolet
makes an actual plutonium-powered time machine, we'll have to live vicariously
through this humorously goofy Francis Ford Coppola flick, in which Peggy
Sue (Kathleen Turner) goes back in time to figure out whether pompadoured
heartthrob Charlie (Nicolas Cage) is her one and only.
16. Lucas - 1986
Sure, sensitive jock Charlie Sheen ends up shirtless for seven minutes due
to a freak blender accident in Home Ec. But we remember Lucas for
its smart scrawny hero (an affecting Corey Haim), who showed that the strongest
kid is the one who walks through the halls knowing he'll be teased. And
that the most interesting person finds beauty where he can - even in
the sewer system, sitting beneath a manhole cover, listening to a live symphony
15. Carrie - 1976
School can be terrifying, especially when you're an awkward telekinetic
teen whose mother is a loony religious zealot. Poor Carrie White can't even
get through P.E. class without being viciously mocked by her peers. But
in this Brian De Palma classic, the wallflower eventually gets her revenge
in the spectacularly gory prom climax (even disposing of a Kotter-era
John Travolta). Sissy Spacek's Oscar-nominated turn in the title role is
pure, silent rage.
14. Donnie Darko - 2001
There are funnier high school movies, and ones with better soundtracks and
more nostalgic value, but how many of those deal with time travel, alternate
universes, fate, God, free will, therapy, censorship, teenage angst, falling
airplane engines, pedophilia, and a scary freaking bunny? Point made. And
while we still don't necessarily understand it all, few films deal so matter-of-factly
with the sheer dread (both literal and metaphoric) of teen life.
13. High School - 1968
Although it was added to the elite National Film
Registry the same year as 2001 and Chinatown,
Frederick Wiseman's documentary is - like many of his fly-on-the-wall
nonfiction films - extremely difficult to find on video. But it is
essential. Thirty years before reality TV, Wiseman took his camera to Philadelphia's
Northeast High School and shot what was there, editing it, without narration,
into a devastating indictment of bureaucracy and enforced conformity.
12. Mean Girls - 2004
There was a time when Lindsay Lohan was best known for her acting rather
than her party-hopping. Showcasing La Lohan in arguably her best role to
date, this Tina Fey-scripted film also boasts a breakout turn by Rachel
McAdams as evil queen bee Regina George ("Gretchen, stop trying to make
'fetch' happen! It's not going to happen!"). While Mean Girls is
technically a comedy, its depiction of girl-on-girl cattiness stings incredibly
11. Say Anything... - 1989
Go on: Hoist that boom box above your head and turn up "In Your Eyes."
Stand motionless with a fixed expression of unrequited but determined love.
And watch Cameron Crowe's ode to young passion, which made John Cusack the
thinking teen's heartthrob and should have done the same for Ione Skye.
If the postgraduation romance between an earnest kickboxer and a sheltered
valedictorian doesn't win you over, repeat steps one and two and listen
10. Ferris Bueller's Day Off - 1986
Who didn't want to be Ferris in 12th grade? Who wouldn't want school to
be a magical place where you could wake up and call in sick (with an awesome
hacking-cough keyboard) and then see your name in a get-well-soon message
painted on the side of a water tower by lunch, all while you were cruising
through Chicago in a red Ferrari? Thanks to Matthew Broderick as Ferris,
teenagerdom has never felt more fun or mythic.
9. Election - 1999
Before taking on geezers (About Schmidt) and oenophiles (Sideways),
director Alexander Payne in Election scabrously exposed the most
embarrassing shortcomings of high schoolers in an artful, hilarious way.
He doesn't go easy on anybody - not Matthew Broderick's weak, meddling
teacher, nor Reese Witherspoon's Fargo-accented
student-council-president candidate. In fact, Election is as mean
as high school at its worst.
8. Boys N the Hood - 1991
Set in South Central Los Angeles, John Singleton's Oscar-nominated directorial
debut revealed what it's like to come of age - and cram for the SATs
- in a community plagued by crime, violence, and gang warfare. By contrasting
the collegiate aspirations of bookworm Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and
football star Ricky Baker (Morris Chestnut) with the self-destructive lifestyle
of dropout/drug dealer Doughboy (Ice Cube), Boyz effectively pimped
7. Clueless - 1995
It's a rare movie that makes you want to befriend the prettiest, most popular
girl in school. But not all girls are Cher (Alicia Silverstone), who gets
as many killer lines as fashion ensembles, learns that seeing the best in
others is a way to better yourself, and discovers the joy of shopping with
a well-dressed gay man - all at the ripe age of 15. Credit writer-director
Amy Heckerling for making this modern-day Emma consistently smart and funny.
6. American Graffiti - 1973
Graffiti's cast of teens - including Richard Dreyfuss and Ron
Howard - has serious decisions to make on a late-summer night filled
with rock music and hot rods, the kind that can only be made if they stay
up 'til dawn. Should they ditch town for college? Should they stay with
their gals? Whatever the choice, it infuses this most innocently joyous
eve-of-adulthood film with that bittersweet feeling of leaving one's childhood
5. Heathers - 1989
For those who dream about offing an obnoxious classmate, Heathers
is the ultimate fantasy. Full of mordant wit, shocking violence, and savvy
performances by Christian Slater and Winona Ryder, the flick was the antithesis
of the earnest '80s John Hughes films - you'd never see Molly Ringwald
serving up a kitchen-cleaner cocktail for Ally Sheedy. Even today, Heathers'
spin on cliques, teen suicide, and homosexuality still has bite.
Rebel Without a Cause - 1955
"You're tearing me apart," Jim Stark (James Dean) howls at his parents.
For the new kid in school, it doesn't get any easier. Though he finds a
friend in the extremely troubled Plato (Sam Mineo), Stark gets into it on
his first day with a gang of bullies, in a knife fight and later in a chickie
run. Dean was a refreshing change from the well-scrubbed teens of earlier
Hollywood films. Here was a character young audiences could finally recognize.
3. Dazed and Confused - 1993
Matthew McConaughey's Wooderson likes high school girls because even though
he gets older, they stay the same age. We feel the same way about Richard
Linklater's minutiae-filled comedic epic about the last day of school in
1976 - we may get older, but Dazed is ageless. And for a movie
featuring so many stoners, Dazed is mammothly ambitious: Few other
films say as much about starting, sticking around in, and leaving high school.
2. Fast Times at Ridgemont High - 1982
When screenwriter Cameron Crowe went undercover to observe the species Teenagerus
americanus, he returned with more than the usual grab-bag of anecdotes
about horny, apple-pie-humping guys and the popularity-obsessed girls who
must fight them off with a stick. He returned with 24-karat truth. To watch
Fast Times today is to know exactly what it felt like to be fixated
on sex, drugs, and rock & roll in Southern California circa 1982. It
also launched careers and dished out still-relevant life lessons: Jennifer
Jason Leigh (relax your throat muscles when fellating a carrot), Phoebe
Cates (always knock before entering a bathroom), and Judge Reinhold. And
Sean Penn's Jeff Spicoli, with his checkerboard Vans and bong-hit grin,
was a geyser of catchphrases ("Aloha, Mr. Hand!"). The film never strains
for coming-of-age treacle. Maybe that's why it still feels so...right. Especially
Damone's sage advice: "When it comes down to making out, whenever possible
put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV."
1. The Breakfast Club - 1985
We see it as we want to see it - in the simplest terms, the most convenient
definition: The Breakfast Club is the best high school movie of all
time. It may lack the scope of its peers - the drinking, the driving,
the listless loitering in parking lots - as well as any scenes that
actually take place during school. But if hell is other people - and
high school is hell - then John Hughes is the genre's Sartre, and this
is his No Exit. The concept is simple: one Saturday detention, five
unhappy teens, and their scramble to prove they're each something more than
a brain (Anthony Michael Hall), an athlete (Emilio Estevez), a basket case
(Ally Sheedy), a princess (Molly Ringwald), and a criminal (Judd Nelson).
Following the farcical fluff of Sixteen Candles, the issues Hughes
explored - sex, drugs, abuse, suicide, the need to belong to something
- were surprisingly subversive and handled with bracing, R-rated honesty.
"'Kids movie' was a derogatory term," recalls Nelson, "and Hughes was
definitely not making that." Thus, 21 years later, the film still sparks
intense debates about the trials of teen life. (Sheedy's goth freak gets
a makeover, then gets the guy: well-earned happy ending or antifeminist
propaganda? Discuss!). Never mind the serious sociological stuff. The
Breakfast Club rules because watching the group dismantle/ignore the
authority of Principal "Dick" Vernon (Paul Gleason) is a vicarious thrill
at any age. It rules because Simple Minds' "Don't You Forget About Me"
is a kick-ass theme. Mostly it rules because, as Hall puts it: "In the
end, you learn maybe we're more alike than we realize, and that's kind of
cool." Leave it to the neo-maxi-zoom-dweebie to get all cheesy.